How To Not Capitulate to Union Bureaucracies: March 4th and the AFSCME 444 Resolution

On October 24, 2009, 800 students and workers met to decide how to work together against the budget cuts. It was decided that March 4 would be a day of strikes and a day of action. This formulation of “strike and day of action” was incredibly ambiguous and has had consequences for the movement, mainly coming in the form of most unions passing watered-down resolutions that say nothing of a strike but abstractly support March 4 as some type of day of action. Concretly this has led to unions to tell their members that March 4 will be like any other day of work except there will be an after work rally at 5pm in downtown SF. A movement of workers pushing for strikes in unified way could be the real beggining of a resistance that produces confidence and concsioussness against these attacks, but this has not materialized for several reasons.

Fundamentally there is a lack of worker militants in major workplaces who have the type of influence needed to push for strikes.  The result is that the various left-organizations have been trying to work around this problem by acting as substitutes for absent worker militants. This lack of worker militants, combined with a hesitancy on the part of leftists to push for militant methods of struggle in fear of being marginalized, has not done much to change the composition of left politics in California . . . With that said there is one seriously notable exception, and that is the AFSCME 444 resolution.

The resolution clearly states that the union should push for, contribute resources to, and participate in a strike. If the militant left was stronger, we could have thousands of copies out in the hands of union members and may have already pushed for several locals to endorse the resolution.

Unfortunately, many of the left organizations that claim to be for a strike have been unwilling to propose such a resolution to their respective unions due to a fatalistic logic that such unions will automatically reject the resolution, so trying to pass it will only create political isolation. Such logic misses the point. Proposing a strike to the unions will open up the discussion of the merits and importance of strikes as methods of struggle to the ranks and expose the political nature of the leadership of such unions who will reject the resolution.

As of now, only East Bay Carpenters local 713 and Oakland chapter of Association of Raza Educators (ARE) have endorsed such resolutions (Oakland go!) with many other unions endorsing a watered-down resolution that ignores the call for a strike.

The left should give the worthy credit to the militants in Labors Militant Voice for creating and pushing the resolution amongst AFSCME and the Carpenters Union.  Other groups who call for strikes but dont really push them should begin to think critically about their own contradictions. Political clarity in labor struggles is central as bureaucracies, whether they be unions or the state, will coopt ambigious and contradictory political messages. We should give credit to AFSCME 444 resolutions for shining light on our path of struggle and not falling in this trap.

Read the resolution here:  https://advancethestruggle.files.wordpress.com/2010/02/444_mrch4th_res.pdf

Advertisements

25 responses to “How To Not Capitulate to Union Bureaucracies: March 4th and the AFSCME 444 Resolution

  1. Great post! Folks here at University of Washington circulated copies of the Local 444 resolution among AFSCME/ WFSE custodians and tradespeople here at UW. It has raised some crucial discussions among workers about the importance of fighting the cuts. I agree it is useful for worker militants to raise the issue in our workplaces/ unions of how we need to do more than rallies if we want to stop these cuts even if resolutions to strike currently won’t pass. Even if we aren’t strong enough to strike right away we need to talk about how we can organize rank and file power to get to that point sooner rather than later. I think that the organizing leading up to the the March 4th student strikes is raising this question for a lot of workers – if students can strike, why can’t we? That’s why I think it makes sense to invite workers in locals that aren’t planning on striking to take vacation time or furlough days if they can to come out to the picket lines on the 4th. Hopefully that experience will deepen the discussion and debate in our workplaces and contribute to future rank-and-file initiated actions. If students strike around specific worker demands that are developed in meetings with rank and file workers then it will help this process move even faster.

  2. Pingback: Which Resolution Is Better? « Revolutionary Desire

  3. Pingback: How To Not Capitulate to Union Bureaucracies: March 4th and the AFSCME 444 Resolution « At Home He's A Turista

  4. I just talked to some people from UESF about the issue at the town hall meeting at Marina Middle School (which by the way we should have mobbed- there were 4 supervisors and 4 state assembly members there, plus the mayor and the prez of the union and like 1000 parents). One of them got really testy about defending his union, saying the usual stuff about people not being “ready,” and how a strike can be “dangerous” if it doesn’t have broad support, etc. But when I asked him if he thought the old tactics of rallies, etc. would work he said no, they probably wouldn’t, that he used to be a socialist, etc. We’ve all seen this contradiction before, one fearful person claiming to speak for whole sectors of the working class. They need to be called on this crap.

  5. What came of the AFSCME 444 resolution on March 4th? Did their members actually strike?

  6. Adamfreedom…nope. When I was in the Bay Area and since I’ve heard of NO union voting to strike except the Santa-Cruz unions at UCSC (shout out to them!). And of course it wasn’t based on the 444 resolution but of the needs and ability to shutdown that campus.

    I know of no left group that did not support the 444 resolution…except maybe the “Revolutionary Workers Group”, maybe.

    The problem was that this was *not* a strike resolution, per se. It was call for the officialdom to call a strike or support on. The focus, *in addition* to the 444 resolution, which at best would be a better calling card for activists to approach unions, union members, etc, should of been to try to get rank and file members to support *their* locals to support actual strike and/or wild-cat walk outs similar to what happened on May 1st, 2006.

    In certain ways, while the Resolution was excellent, it appeared that the *focus* on this resolution was a distraction in actually organizing *for strikes* and why, in a small way, there were so few *actual* strike resolutions passed…including, and not unexpectedly, AFSCME local 444 itself, which, I understand, did not pass a strike resolution or have a walk out.

    IMHO, there would of been not ONE MORE strike had 444 been adopted as it was proposed…because any strike, anywhere, had to come from the bottom up and not from bureaucrats totally disconnected from the struggle.

    C.

    • Carolina, your form and content are too seperated. Its not a dichotomous question of pushing 444 res or orienting towards the rank-file, but both, orienting towards the rank-file with a program, and res 444 was the clearest put as far as union resolutions go. What framework do you use to mobilize rank-file workers to meetings for a strike? Whichever one that spontaneously gets produced at that meeting, or is there a political framework that is the source of both building rank-file activism and a strike?

      AFSCME 444 was used for rank-file agitation in SC. Was it the decisive factor? No. But a very useful ingredient amongst the ingredients that made the shutdown.

    • the idea is to use the resolution to organize amongst the rank and file for strike. talk to workers and explain that strike is the only way to win. if they arent convinced of the need to strike themselves, if they wont commit, then is it pointless to get them to build for other workers to strike? not necessarily. workers, like leftists, can have a consciousness that extends beyond their immediate context. conditions might not allow workers at one workplace to strike. this doesnt mean they shouldnt push their union to act in the interest of the class as a whole.

      the goal with this post appears, in part anyway, to be to convince leftists of the same thing that leftists are SUPPOSED to be trying to convince workers of. the goal with the resolution is to get workers to commit to being political actors on their own terrain AND in the class as a whole.

      the way you come to a conclusion as to whether a left group supports the 444 resolution or not (and by extension, whether they support the principle of class struggle) is whether or not their militants, planted in union workplaces, push the resolution to the rank and file. are they active in their own terrain and in the class as a whole?

      i dont think AS has any militants with union jobs, so they are not ideally suited for this union work. nonetheless, i do know they pushed it to Oakland teachers at a huge OEA meeting through other channels, and due largely to AS work in the M4 City Committees, Oakland Educators Association almost voted to strike. in fact, Oakland teachers announced their intention to strike at the Oakland M4 rally which was largely a product of AS militant’s organizing.

      if the resolution was used simply as a talking point for the bureaucracy to adopt, yes, it would be impotent. but this was not the idea. it was supposed to be a tool for advancing BOTH class consciousness AND material support for class struggle.

      the 444 resolution had the potential to expose deep contradictions within unions. even if there had been a serious push in some unions for the resolution, the bureaucracy would certainly have resisted. AFSCME 444 itself has been the site of years of this kind of contradiction-exposing struggle, thanks to the work of militants like now retired Richard Mellor. it is no coincedence that it produced the best resolution.

      richard is one of the Bay Area’s premier worker militants, even as a retiree. the organization he belongs to, Labor’s Militant Voice deserves much credit for their unwavering perspective on the nature of the unions in the US.

  7. Hi Carolina, thanks for your response. That’s basically what I suspected myself. I think perhaps what I’m critical of is upholding a resolution, or the particular language in a resolution, as a strategy itself.

    I don’t think the above ATS post necessarily puts this forward /as a strategy/ but the way much of the left treats language in resolutions I think tends to put the cart before the horse in terms of not organizing and moving people first and then pushing the structure to follow and reflect where people are at…. for instance within the AFL-CIO, leftists have pushed for anti-war resolutions and ending support for right wing movements abroad, but its done little that I know of to stop them from donating to the Democrats voting for/funding the war or from continuing to back right wing movements abroad (such as funding those involved in the coup against Chavez in Venezuela).

  8. Adamfreedom, I tend to agree.

    The resolution is ‘strategic’, not just a tactic, and ther was nothing wrong with it. Like I heard, and noted, everyone seemed to run with it. I even showed it to some ILWU Local 142 folks here.

    But you are correct, IMHO, that the problem was the way it was used by some, including LMV, which deserves credit for writing it. It was limited as the sole strategy by LMV, it *seems to me*, to be THE way to “get strikes”. As hammoid above noted, the only way to do this was via the rank and file using a resolution like the 444 one OR the one passed by the SFLC and the CFL. They are, *at best* “calling cards” for use by the rank and file to push support for March 4 in terms of strikes, walkouts, endorsements, whatever.

    I think there is a belief among LMV companeros that it was “all tied” to the 444 resolutions. The issue is that there would of been no more no less strikes with or wirthout the Resolution in question…it was all a question of local organizing. LMV seemed to focus all their union work around the 444 resolution…but this was problamatical as it meant *not* doing the organizing one needed at the local level.

    A resolution from 444 *to strike* was not passed and it’s hard to imagine that just because their overall resolution was not adopted by the larger bodies in the labor movement that this somehow contributed to the stymying of the movement for strikes.

    In fact there was very little movement out side of the education industry (that’s what it is) for walk outs. This would not of changed and showed, IMO, too much of a focus on “exposing the bureaucrats” sort of mentality by LMV. Still, as hammoid pointed out, Brother Mellor, who ever he is, seemed to of been one of many really great contributors to the the united front that brought about March 4th.

    Carolina St. D-L

  9. Carolina makes the point here that nothing changes, strikes were not possible without local organizing without getting the rank and file involved and so on. I would agree with this completely. The leadership has an advantage over us being the leadership. But they will not get the rank and file involved because they accept that concessions have to be made; they accept the laws of the market.

    We are in a war on two fronts; one against the bosses and the other against the collaborative policies of the trade Union leadership. The first is much easier than the second in many ways. LMV does not engage the Labor bureaucracy, or nor should anyone, simply for the fun of it. In my 25 years of activity in the Labor movement, if any official took took steps forward, and they can with pressure from below, I welcomed them.

    Carolina says that we have to get the rank and file involved. Well what does she think the Union leadership will be doing as we’re doing that? They will be ferociously trying to prevent us from getting the rank and file involved. They can mobilize for the Democrats and against any movement from below. Any activists seriously trying to change the disastrous policies of the present leadership will be forced in to a confrontation with that leadership; this is inevitable; it cannot be avoided.

    And how do we get the rank and file involved? We do so by openly campaigning against the concessionary policies of the bureaucracy and putting forward an alternative. And what does this do? It brings us in to conflict with the bureaucracy. It’s not an issue of “exposing” the bureaucracy. It’s a question of clarifying issues. Raising that resolution and arguing for it, explaining why it is necessary and how we can win if this is acted upon by the leadership, forces them to have to defend their inaction; this process clarifies in the minds of the rank and file the issues at hand. We debate them on the issues.

    The Local 444 resolution is fundamentally different from that passed by the California Labor Federation and the CFA by stating the following:

    RESOLVED that the leadership of the California Labor Federation, the Change to Win Coalition and the international Unions so affiliated to these bodies, as well as non-affiliated Unions join the call for and participate in a statewide strike on March 4th 2010 and publicly announce such intentions; and be it finally

    RESOLVED that the resources of organized Labor in California be used between now and March 4th 2010 to build support among the members of its affiliated Unions, the communities in which we live and work, and among the youth for a successful and united statewide strike against the assault on working people and our families.

    The LA Labor Federation with 850,000 members passed a resolution supporting March 4th. The California Labor Federation with 2,000,000 members passed something supporting March 4th. But what does that mean? If it doesn’t mean mobilizing these workers and bringing them out on strike as well it can be and is, an excuse for doing nothing.

    I would like to also respond to this statement by Carolina:
    “But you are correct, IMHO, that the problem was the way it was used by some, including LMV, which deserves credit for writing it. It was limited as the sole strategy by LMV, it *seems to me*, to be THE way to “get strikes”.

    This statement is blatantly untrue, and everyone that worked with us in the movement knows this to be blatantly untrue. LMV’s strategy consisted of much more than writing a resolution and trying to get it passed. Along with many of the comrades who run this forum, we were in the schools, on the streets active in the strike committees etc. Our comrades in LA were speaking at Union meetings and active among the high school and college youth. We are also active in the LA march 4th committee and defended that committee against a ferocious attempt by the Union bureaucracy to coopt it, to enforce its will on that committee, prevent it from using the term strike or walkout on placards or selecting the people it wanted to speak on the platform on March 4th.
    Carolina’s opinion is a bit off on that one. Where are you active Carolina? Are you a trade Unionist? Student?

    When myself and others were in the leadership of Local 444 we would have dealt with that resolution differently and used it to politicize the rank and file more. Get them involved. I have differences with the leadership and the president of Local 444. But I am not there. They and the 50 or so people that passed that resolution did so because they believe that it is what should be done, that in itself is a good step. Local 444’s president, Ruben Rodriguez, spoke at the rally in Oakland that the local bureaucracy opposed, and condemned the Democrats and the trade Union leadership at the highest levels for their inactivity. He is not a socialist. He does not consider himself a sophisticated progressive. He is not a paid staffer but works in the place where all the crap from our toilets go after we’ve flushed them. He’s an honest trade unionist and has been a solid one for the 25 years or so I have known him.

    Some locals supported it or similar resolutions but in general it was not taken up. The excuse that we have to mobilize the members first, get them to the meetings first, is a bit lame. What does it mean in practice? It means that unless the members are there you don’t struggle against the bureaucracy’s positions. But if you don’t struggle against the bureaucracy’s positions you won’t get the member’s there; they won’t take you seriously as a fighter and they won’t see a significant difference between you and the leadership.

    You get them to the meetings by being seen as different from the leadership, as being willing to fight the leadership openly and putting forward an alternative strategy for winning. You fight the leadership whether there is one rank and file worker there or 50, or none. Is Carolina saying that if 30 or 40 locals passed that resolution, and used it to rally their rank and file that it would have had no effect on the bureaucracy? Is she saying that it would not increase the chances of more strikes? It may not have guaranteed it but it certainly would have made it more likely while helping to clarify issues and while politicizing the rank and file at the same time.

    I would think hard about the statement that we, those of us outside the leadership, have to mobilize the ranks. Doing that means a major struggle with the bureaucracy; workers will watch this. It is this struggle that helps clarify the issues for the ranks, draws them in to activity, it has nothing to do with “exposing” anyone for the fun of it.

  10. Good points Richard. Round one goes to you. Lets see if there is a good sophisticated response.

    Carolina- what’s your respone?

  11. I forgot to add in my post that was too long anyway, that fighting for resolutions like that or campaigning openly against a leaderships concessionary policies is how we build a movement from below. Winning the day at first is almost secondary.

    We make the motion, make our arguments and we see where the chips fall. Three people might vote with us, some might vote against us because they are wary of the leadership or just need more convincing. They come up to us afterwards, “I agree with this strategy” or “I am interested, what do you mean by this or that?” Or they have other questions.

    So now we have four or five people around us that have some agreement around a program and strategy as opposed to simply a program that calls for justice or Union democracy in the abstract. We all support that, even John Sweeney, President of the AFL-CIO.

    We have discussions, form a caucus or opposition around these ideas and that is how we build from the bottom up. In the Labor movement there are a lot of opposition groups whose sole platform is union democracy. The main issue though, and what is more likely to attract the best militants or fighters, is a program of demands and what we are going to do differently from the present bunch to win them.

    I always used to say to fellow activists in the Local when they got a bit demoralized because the members weren’t active, that we have a great ally, the boss—the boss is driven to attack us and that at some point drives us in to activity, a fighting leadership will accelerate this process.

  12. I am glad to see this discussion about the union leadership. To me it has a number of important parts. I believe Richard has answered the issue of how we struggle against the union leadership very well. I would like to just add one detail.

    I wish we did not have to struggle against the union leadership. What a load of our back this would be. I wish the union leadership were with us mobilizing the millions of workers in the unions along with us. But this is not the case.

    I agree with what Richard says which explains this. The union leadership accepts the laws of capitalism, they see no alternative to capitalism, they themselves have certain privileges within capitalism. So they do not fight it. Even more so, they support it.

    But the problem with this for the union leadership is that when capitalism demands cuts in the living standards of the working class and youth then the union leaders are caught between the rock of capitalism and the hard place of their membership.

    So what do they do? Until a powerful movement of opposition is built which will threaten their positions and control, then the union leadership will try to put down the movement of its own membership which rises up from below to challenge the capitalism attacks. This is the basis for their bureaucratic methods. They are trying to force their members to accept the demands of capitalism. This is what they are doing rather than organizing their own members to fight.

    So therefore we who refuse to accept the capitalist offensive have no choice but to not only fight the capitalist offensive but to also point to and explain the role of the union leadership and oppose its policies. We have to point this out to the union membership and build an opposition to these policies of the union leadership. We do this in many ways.

    One way is by debating in locals and the union structures. That is in struggling for the consciousness of the workers. This is done by moving resolutions and debating and asking the union membership to take a position. Then from this build opposition caucuses in the unions and in the working class in general. I wish Carolina had done this. But Carolina says she only “showed” the 444 resolution to some trade unionists. It would have been good if she had got the resolution moved to a local or locals and had a debate on it.

    In passing let me ask Comrades to consider. How was it that Richard was able to get such a resolution passed at his local when he is retired and no longer active in that local. Rob Rooke also a Comrade of LMV got a similar resolution passed in his local. Does this not show that the method of LMV in working in the organized working class has something going for it. If the majority of workers who were involved in the March 4th movement had gone to their locals and moved such resolutions and had such debates, this would have been a step forward whether the resolutions were passed or not.

    It would have extended the debate about the March 4th movement and how to fight the attacks much wider into the organized working class movement. It is utterly impossible to say with any credibility that if this had been done that the movement would not have been strengthened. So I would contest that it was a good approach that LMV had in discussing and moving the 444 resolution in as many locals as it could and in asking other activists to move it to other locals.

    If 20, 30, 40, locals had debated and passed such resolutions, rather than the couple that LMV were able to get it passed at, this would have significantly deepened the roots and widened the base of the March 4th movement. The problem was that so very few activists were either prepared to take such a resolution to their locals or had a base from which they could take it to their locals. This was and is a weakness of our movement. Instead of criticizing LMV for our success in taking the Mellor resolution to the locals in which we have a voice Carolina should be asking all the other union Comrades and activists and herself why they did not take such a resolution to their locals and unions.

    Finally on the serious accusation that Carolina makes against LMV. We are struggling to build a united front movement. We had great success on March 4th. We have been able to work within and build the March 4th committees as united fronts of struggle. This is a great accomplishment. I sincerely hope we will be able to strengthen these committees of action further, extend them to new areas and bring them together into a united network to take the struggle further forward still.

    The capitalist offensive against education is not over. Worried by the success of March 4th they moved to try and intimidate us by launching their counter attack and fired all the teachers and staff in the school in Central Falls, Rhode Island and in announcing the closure of 29 out of 61 schools in Kansas City and having Bennett the former Republican secretary of education and Duncan the present Democratic Party secretary of education and Obama himself come out in support of these firings and closures. They could have bi-partisanship on attacking education but not health care. They were saying to the March 4th movement that they would give our movement nothing. We are facing an increased offensive to try and prevent the March 4th movement gain greater momentum. We have to strengthen ourselves to face this.

    In this context we have to look at our own movement. We have to strengthen and unify further the March 4th activist network and bring it together. To do this we have to beware of many dangers. One is left sectarianism amongst left groups. We in LMV would like to ask us all to be conscious of this danger. We must not allow ourselves to be divided, either to allow the workers to be divided from the students, or to allow the movement to be divided by different groups seeking to promote their own interests or criticize other groups interests inaccurately at the expense of the movement as a whole.

    Carolina writes about the 444 resolution that :…the problem was the way it was used by some, including LMV……..It was limited as the sole strategy by LMV, *it seems to me* to be the way to get strikes.” And again: “I think there is a belief among some LMV companeros that it was “all tied” to the 444 resolution. LMV seemed to focus all their union work around the 444 resolution….. but this was problematical as it meant *not* doing the organizing work needed at the local level.” (Carolina You use the * and the quotation marks in an attempt to say that these are literally LMV positions. They are not. This is not a helpful way to discuss. Could you please either withdraw these * and quotation marks or give their source.

    Comrade Carolina I do not want to introduce any unnecessary friction into our movement. This would be damaging. But when false accusations are made and not cleared up then this inevitably creates friction and divisions.

    Comrade Carolina, anybody who worked with LMV Comrades knows they were and are active, yes in the unions, but also in the schools, the streets, the colleges. Your accusation is not correct. I would like to ask you to withdraw it. This accusation was made against LMV last week by another participant in the movement. We discussed this with this person with others present and showed that it was not true. But here we see it raised again this time from yourself.

    This attack on LMV is not accurate. But more important it is damaging to our movement which we are trying to develop and unite and have discussion and debate without allowing left sectarianism to develop. Left sectarianism is when a group puts its own interests above that of the movement and on many occasions this takes the form of inaccurately portraying the position of another group to gain advantage. I hope Carolina you will withdraw your false allegation.

    I appeal to you to do so in the interests of our movement.

    Sean.

    • I’m at an airport (part of my job). I can only be brief. From Hawai’i. Was member of ILWU (hotels, the largest union in the state, famous, ag workers, you name it, a whole history distinct from Mainland union politics). Now I’m an engineer.

      I only can comment for the moment on one thing: why do so many on the left consider criticism to be “an attack”. I did no such thing. Everything I’ve learned is from reading stuff on line. Being ‘wrong’ doesn’t constituent landing troops at Omaha Beach. Lighten up.

      I was in the Bay Area in the Fall and attended some events. I speak from afar and just giving observations from writing to some people active there, reading resolution, watching the news, reading blogs w/my own experience.

      I consider, in effect, almost no difference between the 444 resolution and that of the labor councils or other labor bodies endorsements. Why? While the 444 resolution was better (i would of voted for it) it still is not reflective of the mood, or at least as far as I can determine. The fact that it was up to a few LMV comrades to make to intro it to this or that union but the *most* unions, a dare I say, membership, were not ready to “strike”.

      Clearly, this “strike” issue is a major polemical one with various groups. It was not with most workers who hardly moved. One can rack this up to the bureaucrats, but I suspect there would of been no difference, IMHO, as to which resolution passed. They are still just “calling cards”.

      March 4th was a success and raised the level of struggle across the country. For that everyone who worked on making it a success deserves praise, especially the participants.

      C.St.D-L.

      C.

  13. I would like to add one thing to Sean’s post and it is understandable he might leave it out as he is not here in California. The comrades in AS pushed this resolution and argued for it at every opportunity, though most , if not all of them, are not in Unions from what I can gather.

  14. The essence of Carolina’s argument really is to blame the members. They were not ready to strike. But why are they not ready to strike? The difference with 444’s resolution as has already been stated is that all the folks in Unions should have taken it up (or one similar) and fought for it, used it on the job to raise consciousness and mobilize support etc.

    With four months to go I recall an activist, who is in a Union, saying that the members of her Union wouldn’t strike. How can you make that statement four months before a date? If things stayed the same of course that would be most likely. What are you going to do thought to change the objective situation, the balance of forces? My own co-workers would ask me that four months before contract expiration dates and I would say that I didn’t know. It depends what we do to prepare for it.

    The difference between 444’s resolution and the state fed for example is that if acted on it would have changed the objective situation considerably and the decision to strike would have been made under different conditions.

    The decision to strike is not made in a vacuum. It depends on what the leadership is doing. Are they militant, out there fighting? Are they mobilizing, organizing, seen by the membership as being wiling to lead. All this influences the decision a worker or group of workers makes on whether to strike or not.

    Carolina blames the members for not being ready. But even when they have been ready and showed great heroism and sacrifice we still lost. Is that their fault too?

    You could argue it their fault is as a rotten leadership should be overthrown from below but, I’m sorry, leadership has responsibilities. The members have been ready for a long time. But they have to see their leaders leading in a serious way. Instead, they have seen strike after strike defeated through a powerful and intimidating combination of their employers and the heads of organized Labor at the highest levels.

    Had this woman (a leftist) and the hundreds, maybe thousands of left types in the Unions (many of them work as staffers) moved that resolution and used it to agitate among the rank and file it would have increased the chances of a strike taking place. And it would have brought more rank and file workers in to activity for the next battles regardless. It is also how we build an opposition as I stated before.

    Sorry Carolina, but your argument to me is just more of the same old stuff I’ve heard for years; blame the members.

  15. Richard, it is a poor arguement to use ‘blame the members’ charge…I do not, at all. Politics is knowing how to access the situation, the mood, etc. It’s partly understanding the objective situation and, the blocks to further action. Certainly the bureaucracy shares *most* of the blame in that they have, over decades, demobilized and demoralized the membership. That is the situation even with some notable exceptions.

    When you state “if acted upon”. Yeah, big “if” there. The key is understanding what can be won and what can’t be won. I do not believe that the Cal. Fed of Labor would ever really support this motion (444’s) because there was simply no pressure to do so…at all. Do you agree or not?

    Certainly a few locals passed this resolution. If there had been a *generalized* movement reflecting the actual mood of the public sector workers then this would of translated into *more* resolutions of the 444 type being passed. This is not ‘blaming the members’ (which is a typical ultra-left charge against people who propose realistic actions corresponding to actual consiousness).

    But clearly there was no pressure to pass these resolutions except the one that did get passed, passed by various labor bodies to they don’t get left behind by the movement. I don’t believe, from afar (especially in the state I’m in which is overly quiesent due to its isolation) and from my first hand osbervations that we were there just yet for a real campaign for a 444 type resolution…it received far more support among student activists than it did among workers, it seems.

    Now…? Things changed after March 4th. That’s a good thing. “Strike” is now more and more on people’s mind. Now…maybe we can translated the essense of the 444 resolution into something more concrete.

    C. St.D-L.

  16. The fact that, as Carolina states, “‘[s]trike’ is now more and more on people’s mind,” has much to do with the consistent raising of the bar on the discussion (and practice) of tactics, which was largely done by autonomous folks in the struggle, against the consistent discouragement of union bureaucrats and Trot sectarians. Over and over I heard, in the lead-up to March 4, the claim that “strikes are impossible,” “people aren’t ready,” and so forth, from those whose barometer of “readiness” is always set to the anticipated historical moment when their own political party is leading and “the people” are following.

    I’m anticipating that the greater degree to which we experience movement toward strikes and property reclamation now will be claimed as some kind of victory by the same folks who threw vats of cold water on the notion over the last several months.

    But we need to acknowledge the work of people who decided to organize on uncertain and ambiguous terrain. Instead of following a paint-by-numbers scheme and organizing a march or rally, which can always be summed up in quantifiable ways as a “success” because X-number of people attended, these folks in autonomous organizing committees tried something different, forged ahead in the face of discouragement and admonition from self-appointed “leaders,” and risked – and withstood – the potential of being less “successful” on March 4 than they may have hoped.

    This kind of organizing is exactly what is needed as we go forward. It takes a tremendous amount of bravery and resilience to engage in it. Luckily, there is no shortage of these qualities right now.

    On another note: Carolina refers to Hawai’i quite a bit. (I think the explanation for the “quiescence” C. refers to is a lot more complicated than the islands’ isolation, BTW.) I have many close compañer@s in Hawai’i who are engaged in a struggle against budget cuts. Here’s a video from a recent confrontation over the threatened closure of all but one welfare office in the state:

  17. I agree with Richard that we need to agitate for strikes inside the unions by raising resolutions, etc. This raises crucial questions that our fellow workers need to address, highlighting in particular that no strike clauses in contracts are killing us and we need to challenge the limits of capitalist legality to win even the most basic reform demands such as stopping budget cuts. An open ideological confrontation with the union bureaucracy is unavoidable at a certain point for the reasons Richard lays out.

    However, I also agree that this needs to be coupled with rank and file actions organizing toward strikes…. if we get too caught up in orienting toward union meetings and resolutions we may miss other opportunities to agitate and organize among the rank and file. For example, this piece describes how at UC Santa Cruz student organizers bypassed the union bureaucracy and spoke directly with rank and file workers about refusing to cross student picket lines on March 4th http://aufzuheben.wordpress.com/2010/03/09/recollections-on-the-march-4th-experience-in-santa-cruz/. Can workers from one union that is striking on campus encourage workers from other unions that aren’t striking to do the same thing? Can workers organize their own coworkers in their own union to wildcat without union authorization?

    Finally, are there other ways to raise the bar of debate about strikes besides passing resolutions in union meetings? Where we are organizing here very few workers attend union meetings so I’m not sure if passing a strike resolution would really get a debate about strikes going in the local. There are issues of language access and a lot of folks are really alienated by the bureaucratic technicalities and Robert’s Rules of Order. So I’m trying to think of other ways we can raise this debate besides trying to pass strike resolutions. Maybe speeches, chants, posters, etc. at the next campus picket or strike and leading up to it can explain clearly why the unions who aren’t striking should be, how this has to do with the union bureaucracy. Worker militants can ask their coworkers: students and other workers are striking, when is our turn?

  18. I have no disagreement with what Mamos raises above, these are all methods for raising consciousness, discussing with co-workers and building militant opposition caucuses based on more than Union democracy in the abstract. Passing resolutions is one aspect of it and can be used to do organizing on the job.

    This has do be done with the understanding though that the Union bureaucracy will not sit idly by as this is going on and that any movement from below will be met with ferocious resistance from the it, it will bring you in to a conflict with them, this is inevitable and cannot be avoided.

    And workers are intimidated at meetings this is true. We are also bullied and intimidated by students and academics who must know whats best for us because they are the “teachers”.

    Some people I have worked with have been in gangs, dealt dope on the streets of Oakland, I lost two co-workers murdered by dope dealers, so they are tough characters but we can all be intimidated when out of our element and unsure of how to fight. We will learn through this struggle with the bureaucracy though and it will help us.

    The main reason I stress it is there are a lot of left types who think they can get around it and its really an excuse for not fighting at all.

  19. I strongly agree with what you laid out in your most recent comment Richard. I was sceptical about the Santa Cruz strategy at first because I was worried it might contribute to that dynamic of students and academics telling workers what to do. But after reading the peice I linked to and the peice that AS posted on Santa Cruz organizing it seems that at least some of the students and rank and file workers built real realtionships with each other and some of the rank and filers themselves were telling students “look just set up picket lines that are strong enough so we can credibly tell our bosses we can’t get through then we’re good.” I think this could work well here because we already have joint worker-student organizations that have been built through struggling shoulder to shoulder for a year, and there are already tight social networks and friendships among student and worker activists.

    Richard, I’m curious do you think that militant workers should focus primarily on building militant opposition caucuses or do you think there is also room for building independent labor organizations? Not in the sense of dual unionism but more in the sense of building up workers’ activist groups that can operate both inside and outside the union framework, can include both unionized and nonunionzied workers, and workers across different union lines? I’m thinking something along the lines of Staughton Lynd and the Youngston Workers Solidarity Club’s practice of building mixed locals or Sojourner Truth Organization’s practice described in their workplace papers. For all the reasons you’ve laid out here, the union bureacracy is constantly caught up in a dynamic where it needs to enforce capitalism’s cuts… no matter how good the leadership of the trade unions is, there are certain things they simply can’t do because of the way unions are structured. So even if a militant opposition caucus can displace a reactionary leadership we’re still trapped by that logic. Maybe then some of these un-sanctionable actions could be done by independent groups, at times with the unoffical behind-the- scenes support of militant trade unionists who are leading opposition caucuses. In other words, building independent groups would not be opposed to building opposition caucuses, it could be complementary under the right conditions. Of course this will bring down even more opposition from the union bureacracy, and the real danger of charges of dual unionism which we’d have to argue and organize against.

  20. Mamos,

    I am sorry I never returned to this thread and answered your question. I think you are right that opposition can take varied forms, building the type of organizations you describe, or perhaps it would be better to say, gauging the mood among a union’s rank and file correctly and developing an organizational response to it is not counter to building a traditional opposition. Although, as I write I am thinking that if the mood is there for building a genuine opposition of the traditional type, then the organizational form you are suggesting would surely link with it in some way; the linking of these two forms would be an organic development I would think.

    I was in negotiations in 1997 and we formed a solidarity committee. This committee reached out to other public sector workplaces, other cities like Berkeley and agencies like the transit workers.

    We produced fliers for the other public sector unionized workers and also for the welfare offices that we leafleted as well as the unemployed offices.

    We had on the table a demand for more Union jobs and never dropped it. We also never gave up our demand for shorter hours.

    We never had much success although it definitely caused concern for the bosses as I was told that a supervisor from one public agency contacted our bosses because our locals committee fliers were on his lunch tables.

    The objective situation probably had something to do with the limited response (the mid nineties in a boom) but overwhelmingly it was resources. We had a friendly foreman who used company vehicles and his own team to do union work on company time but one can only imagine what would be possible were the Labor leadership to take this path in general. We don’t need to go in to why they don’t do that again.

    But I guess my answer to your question is that I would see no reason why not. I will read the sojourner truth piece when I can.

    Thanks for raising this and making me think about it.

  21. Thanks Richard, that’s helpful. I like the solidarity committee idea. That’s similar to what For a Democratic University and the strike committee tried to do at UW the past month during the UAW’s contract negotiations. We also had mixed results (more on this shortly as we work on a report back). But I do think we were able to make some significant headway implementing the strategies discussed in this thread.

  22. I’m worn out and have a very limited grasp on all this even when I’m wide awake, and I’m still trying to think through all the stuff I just read about the March 4th stuff which is all jumbled together in my head, so I apologize if (when!) I miss the mark here. Anyway –

    Mamos wrote that “a lot of folks are really alienated by the bureaucratic technicalities and Robert’s Rules of Order.” That’s legit. Out of curiousity, has anyone been doing trainings on RRoR? I know it’s real limited, but that’s a useful tool to have. My IWW branch uses a modifyed RRoR and we find it very effective (way better than concensus procedure has worked in my experience, those are the only two formal procedures I know of). We’ve found that knowing procedure has also helped our members in bigger arguments at gatherings of the international etc, in part because we’re aware of the tricks that can be used. Just a thought, sorry if a useless one.

    On strikes and ‘are the members ready’ and so on, I have really hard time understanding any of this stuff. It seems really uncontroversial to me to say that sometimes people don’t want to strike. I think it’s legit sometimes to say that and that it involves no capitulation to the present consciousness of workers etc… it means that people have an assessment of some other workers’ views and of how much work it would take to get enough people to change. I’m also not sure I get the idea about the strike being this huge powerful thing. I mean, I know strikes matter a lot, and maybe there’s important things I fail to understand about the UC system.

    As a point of comparison, I work at a large state university that is one of the biggest, maybe the biggest, employer in the city where I live. A few years ago we had a strike with four different locals who had lined up their contracts. Management was being really aggressive, including not passing on a raise that the state legislature had given earmarked funds to the university for (as in, the legislature intended some money specifically to go to the workers in the bargaining units). The members and in this case the leadership of the locals knew that if they didn’t fight hard management would be coming on even stronger. So there was a strike. About 2000 people participated at first out of 3000 in the units, plus a whole lot of us who are not in the bargaining units. The strike dragged on two and a half weeks and every day more people crossed the picket line, because they just didn’t have the money. It was basically a loss in economic terms (some good organization was built through pickets and support, though not much by any of the official structures), unfortunately, which for a little bit had the potential to touch of a right wing decertification campaign (there were rumblings, happily they got put to bed fast) and the locals were all pretty demoralized. This led to a shift in the balance of power on the shopfloor in several sections. This was in part because the workers couldn’t afford to miss anymore work, being already low waged in the first place it was really hard to miss a full two and a half weeks – a lot of people ended up in tight spots with landlords and their mortgages etc. The shift also came because the unions had taken their best shot and management didn’t cave in, there wasn’t a follow up move waiting. It was pretty bad all around. Business-as-usual here was definitely disrupted, but at the same time the 2.5 weeks is like 4% of the strikers annual pay, so the university saved a good deal of money in that time.

    There were and are some very important tactical and strategic issues here that are worth sorting out, and I’m very aware that this was a very different situation than the March 4th stuff, but in light of this experience I feel a strong disconnect from people being like “don’t say the members don’t want to strike!” and from the strong estimation people have here about a strike call.

    The lessons that my closest comrades drew from all this (some people in the affected bargaining units, some of us who work in other units, and people who don’t work here but were involved in solidarity actions and came to lots of pickets) was that we need to go back to building organization on the shopfloor through smaller actions against managers, to try to reverse some of management’s newfound boldness after the strike and to build the commitment and experience of more of the workers involved (in part to minimize the tactical and strategic errors in future efforts — I don’t know if people have made assessments about how decisive those errors were, they definitely had an impact but the full extent is unclear — and also because our aims are to try to get more people to have experiences of collectively standing up the boss, my comrades felt that a lot of people’s confidence in collective action had been shaken by the strike and so they needed to see positive gains through smaller actions), and to build more ties across units here and to workers in other workplaces beyond the university so that the total strike is bigger. All of this has been underway in fits and starts, I don’t know what the results are yet, it’s a bit early to say.

    take care,
    Nate

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s